Album Review: TOSKA Fire by the Silos
YouTubers are normally synonymous with shamelessly contrived videos, cringe-worthy reaction posts faked in order to rake in views, and a tendency to vanish into thin air overnight – but Rabea Massaad, Ben Minal, and Dave Hollingworth do not fit that profile.
Over the past several years, these guys have risen to online prominence as three-quarters of Dorje, the alt-rock-prog-metal band fronted by YouTube guitar guru Rob Chapman. While Dorje remains an ongoing project, Rabea (guitar), Ben (drums), and Dave (bass) have recently found themselves at the center of a steadily growing progressive metal revolution as Toska. While so many of their video-crafting peers resort to cheap tricks and gimmicks in order to remain relevant, Toska have achieved the same goal through an abundance of technical virtuosity and exceptional musicianship.
Toska are their own kind of heavy. On their debut EP Ode to the Author, a single snare crack announced the start of opening track “Chalk Teeth”—then the onslaught began. Ode to the Author was a true work of genius, a set of four powerful instrumental pieces broken up by a pair of noisy interludes. The YouTube video containing that EP’s audio in full is now approaching half a million views, an irrefutable testament to Toska’s dazzling chops and the masterful catchiness of pieces like “Illumo”, the live version of which is currently nearing the 350,000-view mark.
Having officially made their dent in the borderline between progressive music and metal, Toska now come to the next stage in their evolution. With so much momentum behind them, Toska’s constantly expanding fanbase has been clamoring for a full-length album for the last couple of years—and at last, it's here.
Fire by the Silos is nowhere near as immediately gratifying or accessible as Ode to the Author, but that’s no bad thing. Without headphones and deep listening, it’s easy to lose track of the metronomic click that underpins “The Herd”, an opener that could easily come off as a random, meandering jam session without it. Focus your attention, though, and the reality comes into proper focus as each of Toska’s members weave their own patterns around that core pulse.
As the title of second track “A Tall Order” makes clear, Toska set out to challenge themselves on Fire by the Silos—and even the most prog-obsessed listeners will find themselves equally tested, in a good way. Running at an overflowing hour and ten minutes, Toska’s latest naturally requires more patience than your average commercially-oriented collage of hooks. Aside from “The Herd”, Fire by the Silos also finishes with a ten-minute experimental ambient piece called “The Heard”—and right in the middle of the whole thing, you’ll find this album’s title track.
An unsettling, feedback-soaked, six-and-a-half-minute odyssey during which an increasingly apoplectic narrator chronicles his downfall at the hands of state-owned debt collectors, “Fire by the Silos” at first feels like an overindulgence. But if you consider the fact that it does effectively connect advance single “Congress” and the savagely shifting epic “When Genghis Wakes”, and bear in mind that Rabea Massaad worked in debt collection in a previous life, it makes more sense. It also connects with this album’s underlying theme, a form of spiritual philosophy akin to the Buddhist-influenced path promoted by Alan Watts.
Shave off “The Herd”, “Fire by the Silos”, and “The Heard”, and this album’s impact will be greatly diminished. You will also be left with beautiful piano interlude “Ataraxy”, and five full-band tracks that each run for at least eight minutes. Each one is a cinematic mass of hectic riffs, labyrinthine melodies, expansive dynamics that continuously shift between brutality and tenderness, and some of the greatest guitar and bass interplay I’ve ever heard. Together, Massaad and Hollingworth have composed a vast array of incredible harmonic structures, weaving emotional tapestries through which they speak the unspeakable.
Fire by the Silos cuts to the core of what instrumental music is all about. Not wanking mindlessly, waving your dick about and reaching for the tape measure, but making a human connection almost telepathically. Making your presence felt, and being heard without opening your mouth. Toska achieved that here—and you’d better believe that even bigger things lie beyond the horizon.